“At first glance spam, pornographic text messages and video games are not contributing much to human development. But a good case can be made for regarding all three as some of the smartest artificial intelligences around. Some may even have beaten the legendary ‘Turing Test’ by convincing thousands of people that they are human… But the best candidate for passing the Turing test is the Natachata program that conducts smutty conversations via text messages. Regular users of pornographic SMS chat may be shocked to find out that they are swapping dirty talk with machines rather than young women and men. But it’s a fair bet that they are because the Natachata chatbot, written by former rocket scientist Simon Luttrell, is so widely used by porn chat merchants… ‘Most people do not realise it’s a computer and are quite happy chatting with it,’ said Mr Luttrell… Some users work out it is a machine, he said, and never come back. But, worryingly, some like the fact that it is a machine. ‘There is about 5% who realise it is a computer and use it even more because of that,’ said Mr Luttrell.” — BBC (UK)
It’s no revelation to say that the Information Age could also be called The Age When Sex Became Technology. Contemporary technologies have opened up new venues for erotic activity — is sex fundamentally just another form of information? — and conversely lust has fueled some of the most innovative uses of new technology. Accordingly, should it be any surprise if the Turing test, the benchmark established by mathematician Alan Turing to determine if a computer possessed “human” intelligence, should finally be conquered by some kind of sex machine? Will the hallmark of Artificial Intelligence be dirty talk?
The article makes the claim that porn spam poses a challenge to the Turing test. When a clever subject header gets you to open an email, the argument goes, has the computer-generated spam not tricked you into thinking that it is human? This hardly seems true, for several reasons. First, most people learn to recognize spam headers for what they are (is anyone really fooled by “V|i_a|g-a|r_a?”). Second, though most spam is sent by software programs, many of the headers are composed by humans (precisely in an attempt to get you to read it). Third, the Turing test stipulates that a machine only passes the test by fooling a (real) person into thinking that it (the machine) is a human during the course of a conversation — and spam hardly amounts to a conversation. You can’t interact with somebody who hides behind a million email addresses they buy on CD-ROM for $29.99.
But what about this bot that does porn chat? Apparently it is as convincing as it is clever. It compares your dirty talk to a large database of sexy sentences and works out the right response. It also incorporates a random delay into its responses, so that you don’t get the feeling you’re being talked up by a stock ticker. The article quotes “Barry” asking the bot if it’s a virgin, and the bot responds “As far as you’re concerned, barry, I always will be.” Pretty good — but does it really pass the Turing test?
The funny thing about dirty talk, of course, is that it represents an extremely small subset of the possibilities of human conversation. A database of a hundred thousand sentences probably contains just about everything that can be said in ninety-nine percent of porn chat. What are you wearing, how old are you, where are you based, what do you look like, what gets you off, etc — it’s not a huge programming task to cover this finite case of scenarios. However, once you move outside this restricted subset of possibilities, could such a bot really fool a human? It hardly seems likely, since it would require a database the scope of the entire internet (and then some) to anticipate the variegated types of conversation two people could have. A real conversation might bounce from necrophilia to biotech futures, trial litigation to Chaucer, bone spurs to local politics — and how could you humanly account for all that in a database?
If anything, the relative success of this bot during porn chat suggests not that the software is so intelligent but that its (human) interlocuter is, at least temporarily — dumb. What dumbs us down more than lust? Given the lowering of intelligence that accompanies the ascendance of the libido, a dog could probably pass the Turing test with a sufficiently horny man.